Research projects

Coordinating organic plant breeding activities for diversity

Acronym : COBRA

Contract Period : 01/03/2013 - 28/02/2016

Main Funder : Core Organic/Defra

ORC Staff Contact : Ambrogio Costanzo

COBRA involves 41 partners from 18 European countries which will focus on coordinating, linking and expanding on-going organic breeding activities in cereals and grain legumes across Europe, drawing together experts from previously fragmented areas.

Project Aims:

Organic plant production is currently challenged by several pressure factors. Along with perennial problems such as weed control, climate change is threatening to affect crop production through increasing weather variability.

Plant breeding is a crucial factor in creating organic crop production systems that can better cope with such interacting stresses and producers need crop varieties with

  • good resistance against pests and diseases, esp. seed borne diseases;
  • the ability to react to environmental, esp. climatic variability; and
  • high competitiveness against weeds. COBRA aims to support and develop organic plant breeding and seed production with a focus on increasing the use and potential of plant material with High genetic Diversity (Hi-D) in cereals (wheat and barley) and grain legumes (pea and faba bean) through coordinating, linking and expanding existing breeding and research.

Although Hi-D-based systems have shown promising results in organic systems and are currently subject to intensive research, their benefits can at present not be exploited, due to agronomic, regulatory and other hurdles. Also, it is currently unclear which plant breeding approaches, Hi-D-based or else, are most efficient to breed varieties for organic agriculture.

Therefore, COBRA aims/workpackages (WP)

  • to improve methods ensuring seed quality and health (WP1);
  • to determine the potential to increase resilience, adaptability, and overall performance in organic systems by using crop diversity at various levels (WP2);
  • to improve breeding efficiency and to develop novel breeding methods to enhance and maintain crop diversity (WP3);
  • to identify and remove structural barriers to organic plant breeding and seed production (WP4); and
  • to improve networking and dissemination in organic plant breeding (WP5).

COBRA‟s strength is its focus on coordinating, linking and expanding on-going organic breeding activities in cereals and grain legumes across Europe, drawing together experts from previously fragmented areas.

ORC's Role:

ORC will lead and coordinate COBRA. ORC will be responsible for project management and contribute to field experimental tasks in WP1, WP2 and WP3. In particular, ORC will contribute to the bunt testing with field trials of selected lines, take part in the ring-test on adaptability to climatic fluctuations and will contribute to mass selection experiments in. In addition, ORC will contribute to the work in WP4 by supplying information for inventories and by taking part in discussions on regulatory frameworks. Finally, it will use its wide networks in the organic sector to disseminate the results in the UK, in Europe and beyond (WP5).

Key Achievements:

Project leader and partners:

The project was co-ordinated by Dr Robbie Girling of ORC.

  • Aegean Agricultural Research Institute, TU
  • Aalborg University, DK
  • Agrologica, DK
  • Associazione Italiana per l’Agricoltura Biologica, IT
  • Aarhus University, DK
  • Bioforsk Organic Food and Farming, NO
  • University of Natural Resources and Applied Life Sciences,  AT
  • University of Copenhagen, DK
  • Centro di Ricerca p. l. Produzioni Foraggere e Lattiero-Casearie, IT
  • Centre de Recherche Public-Gabriel Lippmann, LU
  • National Institute for Agricultural Research, F
  • Technical Institute of Organic Farming, F
  • Institute for Sustainable Development, SI
  • Knudsen Plant Breeding, DK,
  • Kassel University, DE,
  • Lantmännen SW Seed, SE
  • MTT Agrifood Research Finland, FI
  • Nordic Seed, DK
  • SRUC, UK
  • Sejet Plantbreeding, DK
  • Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, SE
  • Technical University of Denmark, DK
  • Technische Universität München, DE
  • VLF, DK
  • Bayer. Landesanstalt für Landwirtschaft, DE
  • University of Udine, IT
  • University of Maribor, SI
  • University College Ghent,  BE
  • Oikos – Organic Norway, NO
  • Forschungsinstitut fur Biologischen Landbau, CH
  • Graminor, NO
  • Jõgeva Plant Breeding Institute, EE
  • Organic Seed Producers, UK
  • State Priekuli Plant Breeding Institute, LV
  • State Stende Cereal Breeding Institute, LV
  • Agricultural Institute Hungarian Academy of Sciences, HU
  • Saatzucht DonauGesmbH & CoKG, AT
  • Nordic Genetic Resource Center, SE
  • Louis Bolk Instituut, NL

Project Output:

  • COBRA project leaflet
  • The 1st COBRA newsletter is here
  • The 2nd COBRA newsletter including an editorial by ORC’s Robbie Girling is now online here
  • The 3rd COBRA newsletter including crop reports from ORC wheat, barley and legume trials, is now online here
  • The 4th COBRA newsletter is here
  • The 5th COBRA newsletter is here

All sources of funding:

Financial support for this project provided by the CORE Organic II Funding Bodies, being partners of the FP7 ERA-Net project, CORE Organic II (Coordination of European Transnational Research in Organic Food and Farming systems,  project no. 249667).